I received a copy of The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai on audio for review from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.
About the Book:
Lucy Hull is a 20-something children’s librarian in Hannibal, Missouri. Her favorite patron is a ten-year-old boy named Ian, and Lucy happily helps Ian smuggle books deemed inappropriate by his conservative evangelist mother past her watchful eyes.
Then Ian starts to change, seeming moodier and less interested in books each time Lucy sees him, until one morning, Lucy arrives at work early to find Ian had stowed himself away in the library the night before and slept among the books. She means to simply drive Ian home, to parents with whom she may disagree but who must certainly be worried sick, but instead finds herself setting off on an illicit road trip that quickly snowballs out of Lucy’s control.
When I requested The Borrower through LibraryThing, it looked to me to have potential. The plot was original and rather intriguing, and I found myself curious to see how the author would develop it. And the cover — kind of cool, right? I’m sorry to say I was disappointed on all fronts. (Well, with the exception of the cover…that’s still pretty neat. That, and the book is sprinkled with lots of bookish allusions, which is always fun.)
My biggest problem was Lucy, the narrator and main character. She and I did not get along from the start. I started off confused, having trouble getting a sense of her character. She often mentioned her discomfort with the standard mild-mannered librarian stereotype, yet in no way did this admission seem relevant to the plot. As the story moved forward, I discovered that Lucy was incapable of taking responsibility for anything that happened to her — even when she herself had instigated it. She spent numerous pages pondering the circumstances of her life and her Russian heritage as though they might provide her with answers, yet though she had plenty of room to grow as a character she never seemed to learn anything. I had no sympathy for her at all and, on the contrary, spent most of the novel feeling annoyed and fed up with her.
Throughout the novel there were also odd passages written to imitate well-known children’s picture books, like Goodnight Moon, but focusing on Lucy and Ian’s story. I found them disruptive and a bit random, not to mention confusingly age inappropriate, seeing as Ian was repeatedly described as reading chapter books and there was no younger child in the novel. Emily Bauer read these passages in a very exaggerated way, making them even more jarring.
Finally, the ending annoyed me enormously. I spent the entire novel suspecting that it would, and it did.
I wanted Lucy to answer for what she had done, no matter now unintentional her “kidnapping” had been. I didn’t like her enough to accept that she slipped away from Hannibal protected by Ian’s invented cover story, free to start her new life somewhere else. I was left feeling the entire novel had been pointless, that both characters ended up where they’d started despite their ill-advised sojourn together.
As for the audio production, I may have been a bit biased from the start. Emily Bauer is one of those readers I tend to avoid, as her style of reading grates on me. The characters she portrays always come across whiny — which, though it may have worked for Lucy, certainly did nothing to endear Makkai’s main character to me. Bauer’s voice is high to begin with, which is fine, but when she modulates it even higher to do Ian’s 10-year-old voice, the effect is almost cartoonish. I don’t think Bauer’s narration was the sole reason I disliked The Borrower, but was one of them.
Instead of continuing with my own comments, I will direct you over to Bonjour, Cass! where the lovely Cass has written a review with a different focus but with which I heartily agree.
- The Book Frog
- Boston Book Bums
- Devourer of Books
- Fizzy Thoughts
- Indie Reader Houston
- Killin’ Time Reading
- Lovely Treez Reads
- Steph and Tony Investigate
- Stuff As Dreams Are Made On
If I missed your review, please let me know and I’ll add a link!